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Friday, 13 June 2014

A Little Mystery


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Warren Woods path, trees and scenery. A man, Professor Frank Johnson (FCM or other institution?) standing near a tree. Part of the Wildflower Preservation Society trip series: photographer unknown, 1914; posted 17 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

A nagging little mystery persists concerning what happened to the professor in Warren Woods. Were his eyes burned out by what he had seen? Or had he merely later become the victim of an insane, possibly vindictive photo-developer?
And if so, when? And why?



Professor Frank Johnson in Warren Woods. Part of the Wildflower Preservation Society trip series: photographer unknown, 1914; posted 17 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

"I have to ask, why are the eyes like that?" -- Kid Gibson. "He ate the magic mushrooms." -- Hart Ryan Noecker. "The eyes were scratched out on the original glass plate. We're not sure why." -- The Field Museum Library
 
Was the professor -- and Is this really him, in any case? -- the only person left alive who had seen the woodsman dragging Snow White under the big trees?  Was he then the sole witness, or perhaps even, perish the thought, a suspect? Just what's going on here? And why? And is there any way out of these woods, when the mystery is over?

While we were musing idly over these several questions, some months passed. Seasons changed. Snow fell. Time reversed on its axis. Two years mysteriously went by in the wrong direction. More snow fell.



Footprints in the snow and trees in Jackson Park, Chicago: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

"Who was walking alone in the cold snow? Did they have far to go? We'll never know." -- Retired at last

We all have our secrets. Not every life lies open before us like one of those old books, the kind that had spines and pages.
Could those be the professor's solitary footsteps, a man pursued, his desolate tracks in the snow?




Unidentified bird on a branch, possibly Northern Shrike. Jackson Park, Chicagos: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

Plowing on heedlessly through the silent white medium, the blank unwelcoming snow, did the professor notice this little bird, exposed to the elements much as he himself now was, naked unto the world as he presumably was not, and all the same bearing up stoically? Would it have provided him a stirring example of courage amid adversity? Could those have been the professor's solitary footsteps, his desolate tracks in the snow, and we, so busy with our own pathetic affairs, not even having noticed?





Benches in snow and unidentified house. Jackson Park, Chicago: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

Proceeding doggedly ahead through the pathless drifts, forgetting all traces of the backstory, would he have come upon these empty benches, this large unoccupied house, frozen in mute repose in the snow?




Herring Gull in snow. Jackson Park, Chicago: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)


Spying the tracks of that first-winter Herring Gull, probably just blown in off the Lake and at least as lost as he was, would he have felt he was not as alone in all this as he had supposed?





Herring Gull in snow. Field Columbian Museum building south exterior in distance. Jackson Park, Chicago: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

Here a bit of orienteering experience would have come in handy. Taking his bearings on that hardy if somewhat confused bird, he would have glimpsed the cleared road, and beyond, the gleaming apparition of a citadel of knowledge.





Herring Gull in snow. Jackson Park, Chicago: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

Displaying little respect for the things of the Mind, however, the gull hopped on gamely, and crossed the road. This would have posed a certain dilemma for the hero of the present tale. Keep following that bird, trusting it knows where it's going, and take the chance a search party, despatched some time earlier, might come marching along, armed and warranted to take in the fleeing suspect, by any means necessary, dead or alive? It would be understandable had the professor grown a bit desperate, at this point, upon these dire considerations. Wasn't there a Plan B to be found, hidden somewhere in one of those otherwise blameless drifts?


 
Chicago houses and backyard with an unidentified bird. (Verify if bluejay?) Possibly the Hyde Park neighborhood: photographer unknown, 1912; posted 3 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

Can the professor then have stumbled on out of the Park into a nearby residential neighborhood, where he would perhaps have glimpsed a bird in a birdbath, perched atop a pile of snow?  What kind of bird would do such a thing? Was the professor in fact not a murderer but a birdwatcher after all?  And if so, what would have made us think such an unkind thing about him in the first place? Have we got the whole thing wrong, failed to read the signs all along? Are not all historical persons innocent until proven guilty, and after as well
for that matter?





Warren Woods path, trees and scenery. Part of the Wildflower Preservation Society trip series: photographer unknown, 1914; posted 17 January 2007 (Illinois Urban Landscapes Project /The Field Museum Library)

4 comments:

Nin Andrews said...

Such fun! I love this.

-K- said...

I always enjoy "Beyond The Pale." And today especially so.

TC said...

Thanks very much, Nin and Kevin.

Good words from two people whom I respect a lot as practitioners, each in her/his different way, of these strange arts of the visual telling of stories and discovering of little mysteries!

Wooden Boy said...

It's a very good thing to get lost in the woods from time to time.